Sitka Tribe/SEATOR join new Alaska Ocean Acidification Network tribal research working group

Esther Kennedy at the SEATOR lab in Sitka.

While most people don’t know much about ocean acidification, it has become a major concern of Alaska fishing communities. Higher rates of CO2 means the ocean is 30 percent more acidic than it was three centuries ago, and that has impacted everything from how shellfish build their shells to causing harmful algal blooms that result in paralytic shellfish poisoning and other issues.

In order to monitor ocean acidification and its impact in Alaska coastal communities, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA) and its partners in the Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR) have joined the new Alaska Ocean Acidification Network (AOAN) tribal research working group.

Jeromy Grant, left, and Sean Williams of Hoonah Indian Association take water samples for SEATOR.

“Global warming increases the risk of shellfish toxins, while its partner ocean acidification directly threatens shellfish survival,” STA Environmental Specialist Esther Kennedy said. “We monitor ocean acidification and shellfish toxins at local beaches to ensure that shellfish remain a sustainable and safe wild food source despite ongoing environmental changes.”

The tribal working group was formed to coordinate ocean acidification research and monitoring activities, as well as local community outreach activities, between tribal organizations across Alaska. So far discussions have been on creating consistency in data collection, and expanding data collection to sites in the Arctic that are not currently adequately sampled.  This effort is about expanding tribal capacity for research and monitoring, and having tribes take the lead in some areas in Alaska which are under sampled by university and agency researchers, as well as partnering with those researchers to build local capacity.

In addition to Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA), other members of the AOAN tribal working group include Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward, Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak, the Native Village of Kotzebue, and Yakutat Tlingít Tribe. SEATOR includes 16 Southeast tribal partners, plus Sun’aq Tribe in Kodiak, with its lab located in Sitka. The Sitka Sound Science Center recently posted an online survey about ocean acidification for the AOAN.

“Over the past few years the Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA) has become a leader in Alaska in monitoring for shellfish toxicity for communities,” said Davin Holen, who is coordinating the tribal working group for AOAN. “This includes working closely with communities throughout Southeast Alaska to monitor stocks important for subsistence harvests. This effort has lead to the establishment of the Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR), which is housed in the environmental department of STA. Recently the STA lab installed equipment to monitor for ocean acidification. STA worked collaboratively with the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward to set up monitoring protocols for ocean acidification. Using their existing SEATOR network for testing shellfish, STA is beginning to monitor ocean acidification levels throughout Southeast Alaska. Additional monitoring will occur in collaboration with the Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak for Kodiak Archipelago communities, along with two sites under development in the Arctic. Tribal monitoring of environmental conditions in Southeast Alaska by STA through the SEATOR network has become a model for other areas of Alaska, making STA a vital partner for marine science in Alaska.”

The Sitka Tribe of Alaska continuously monitors the carbonate chemistry of Sitka Harbor and is beginning a discrete sample collection program modeled after the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery’s existing program. The Sitka Tribe coordinates discrete sample collection and analysis with the SEATOR partnership’s existing weekly phytoplankton and shellfish biotoxin monitoring programs, including with the Hoonah Indian Association and other Southeast Alaska tribal partners.

Kennedy said SEATOR’s participation in the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network tribal working group is a natural extension of its shellfish testing work.

“We installed a Burke-o-Lator (BoL) in early June, which is an instrument that can continuously monitor the chemistry of water pumped through it and can measure individual preserved water samples,” Kennedy said. “While we’re still working to fully calibrate the individual water sample analysis portion of the instrument, we have started shipping kits of bottles and preservative to our partners. Since our partners are already collecting a phytoplankton sample every week and shellfish samples every two weeks, our goal is for partners to add OA-sample collection to their phytoplankton sampling routine and to ship us preserved samples with their clams every two weeks. Ocean acidification’s specific effects on nearshore ecosystems are still not well known, so we’re hoping that by pairing OA samples with phytoplankton assemblages and shellfish toxins, we’ll get a clearer picture of each community’s vulnerability. We are also interested in seeing whether the chemistry in our OA samples helps us to predict phytoplankton toxins, as work in California has suggested that domoic acid production is higher in more acidic waters.”

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• Hoonah Healing Community Garden helps Hoonah improve health and prevent diabetes

End of May 114

Terrence McCrobie builds three Hoonah Healing Community Garden plots for the Hoonah Senior Center in May 2015. (Photo by Kathy McCrobie)

By Kathy McCrobie
SEARHC Traditional Foods Project Assistant

Creating the Hoonah Healing Community Garden was Bob Starbard’s idea. He is the Hoonah Indian Association‘s (HIA) Tribal Administrator. He worked with Bob Christensen from Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC), and by 2012 our first plots had been built.

I was hired by SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) as the Traditional Foods Project Assistant. When I took over for the 2013 growing season, I really had no gardening experience. I posted notices for the community to let them know the garden was available. We had 22 plots available for growing, and that summer half were in production.

Many community members made important contributions; our gravel business donated two large loads of fine sand and the time and skills shared made building the garden easier. Soon there was a dirt sifter to screen out the many rocks in the local dirt and heavy equipment leveled the ground. The Southeast Soil and Water Conservation District in Juneau sold us 14 berry plants at a discounted price. A community member donated 30 strawberry plants. Our space was soon coming together.

Most of our gardeners have prior gardening experience. Some used their own soil. Last year the zucchini, broccoli, potatoes, beets, bush beans and snap peas did well. The biggest challenge came from the ravens. After putting in starts, out of their curiosity, they would fly down when everyone left and pull them up.

We ask that our gardeners not use fish in their compost so the bears won’t come by to check us out and so far the deer have left the plots alone. Lia Heifetz from the Sustainable Southeast Partnership was a big help with our garden last year; she acquired some fence to protect our plots from critters. We hope to get the fence up this year. Lia also came to the William and Mary Johnson Youth Center to teach the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hoonah about composting with her worm bin and then we gathered seaweed for the garden.

For 2015 we are off to a great start with six returning and four new gardeners. Community members donated 20 raspberry plants and 20 gooseberry plants. Through the program, I purchased and planted a Nadine plum tree and a Terry Berry apple tree. My husband volunteers at the Hoonah Senior Center and is helping me with the traditional foods plot, as well as planting three plots for the seniors.

I just received an email from Lauren Hughey, a Community Health Educator based out of SEARHC Sitka. What exciting news! They just received a diabetes grant carry-forward. With the approval of this grant, Hoonah will receive $1,650 with the main goal of reducing the financial barriers to gardening for American Indian/Alaska Native diabetic patients. This grant will pay for plot fees and gardening supplies in the community garden: soil, seeds, raised-bed repair supplies, shovels, pots, gloves, buckets, and cold frames.

If you are ever in Hoonah please stop by to see us.   The garden is in town next to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Sharing about the Hoonah Healing Community Garden lets our and other communities be informed that food security starts with us. Also that it really does work! For additional information, feel free to contact me at kathymc@searhc.org.

A slideshow of Hoonah community garden photos from former Sitka Local Foods Network board member Cathy Lieser is posted below.

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• Kake to host three-day shellfish mariculture workshop on May 1-3

SE SWCD Shellfish Farming Brochure_draft_Page_1

The Southeast Soil and Water Conservation District (SESWCD) will host a comprehensive three-day shellfish mariculture workshop on Thursday through Saturday, May 1-3, in Kake.  (NOTE: Capital City Weekly ran an article covering this event, http://capitalcityweekly.com/stories/051414/new_1206564746.shtml).

This program will be aimed at teaching best management practices to beginning oyster farmers. The workshop curriculum will consist of lectures, labs, and hands-on field operations on working oyster farms. This workshop is open to the public and the District anticipates participation from shellfish farmers in Kake, Hoonah, and Angoon. Participants will learn from experts about nearly every aspect of oyster farming in Southeast Alaska.

The workshop also features a shellfish-oriented educational program at the Kake Community School, as well as a community presentation at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 1, at the Kake Community Hall Kitchen. Topics at the community presentation include: food security and mariculture, shellfish enhancement activities for subsistence use, indirect economic benefits of mariculture in the community, and commercial aquaculture diversity.

The District’s partners in this project are the Organized Village of Kake and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program. Other participating organizations include the Hoonah Indian Association, Haa Aaní LLC, Alaska Division of Economic Development (Alaska Department of Commerce, Communities and Economic Development), and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

One of the SESWCD’s strategic focus areas is mariculture development (shellfish farming). The intent is to facilitate increased mariculture development in Southeast Alaska to increase food security and support rural economies. This shellfish farming workshop will be the district’s first project in its mariculture program. The Southeast Soil and Water Conservation District is a statutorily authorized quasi-state agency that leverages public funding with private sources to help the communities of Southeast Alaska become more sustainable and self-sufficient.

To register or receive more info, contact James Marcus at 1-907-586-6878 (Juneau number) or districtmanager@seswcd.org.

• Southeast Soil and Water Conservation District Shellfish Mariculture Workshop in Kake press release (with tentative schedule on second page)